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Renovations Set for 'Neglected' Taft High School

  The far Northwest Side high school is slated to get all new science labs, lockers and windows.
Taft High School Renovations
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NORWOOD PARK — Supporters of Taft High School have long complained that the far Northwest Side school was ignored by the school system and the city as the 74-year-old building crumbled around students and teachers.

No longer.

Included in the Chicago Public Schools' 2014 capital improvement plan is $17 million to overhaul nine science labs, patch crumbling brick, repair water damage and replace the school's lockers — many of which were in use when the school opened its doors.

"Taft has been neglected for decades," said Local School Council Vice Chairwoman Lisa Schwieger, whose daughter is a sophomore at Taft. "It is in a state of disrepair. We should all be ashamed that our kids have been going to a school like this. Shame on those in charge."

In addition, many of the school's windows — so clouded with age that students can't see out of them — will be replaced. The district's plans call for the work to start in September and be completed in October 2014.

In addition, two additional science labs are expected to be renovated this summer with $1.33 million earmarked for the school in the supplemental 2013 capital plan, which was approved by the Chicago Board of Education last month.

Jason Hernandez, senior aide to Ald. Mary O'Connor, whose 41st ward includes Taft, said the amount of money earmarked for Taft surprised the alderman.

"It exceeded what we thought was doable," Hernandez said, crediting the parents of Taft's students for lobbying CPS officials. "Victories like this are few and far between."

The school board is expected to approve the $161.8 million capital plan at its meeting in August. Because of the CPS budget crunch, the amount is much smaller than in years past. In 2013, the district spent $473 million on building renovations and construction.

"We'll celebrate when we receive the money," Local School Council Chairman Ted Pirpiris said. "I'll bring the champagne."

Money for Taft, which is the city's second biggest high school, was included in the budget because it is in worse shape than most other high schools, CPS spokesman Dave Miranda said.

"There has been little to no capital investment in recent years," Miranda said. "We're playing catch up with delayed or deferred maintenance."

In the fall, Taft will become a wall-to-wall International Baccalaureate school in an effort to offer students an academically challenging program and to convince parents worried that their children won't snag a coveted place in a selective-enrollment high school to stay in the city.

"There's new energy at Taft that we haven't seen in decades," Schwieger said. "It is becoming the neighborhood school of choice for high achieving students."